Treatment of Pneumothorax with a Portable Thoracic Vent

The Case

A 59 year-old male who underwent a same-day bronchoscopy with transbronchial biopsies taken for diffuse parenchymal lung disease presents later that afternoon to the Emergency Department with a chief complaint of shortness of breath.

Upon arrival he is noted to be mildly tachypneic with a respiratory rate of 22. He is not hypoxic and the remainder of his vital signs are within normal limits. Exam reveals diminished breath sounds in the left lung fields. An upright chest x-ray demonstrates a large left-sided pneumothorax (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Initial chest x-ray demonstrating large left-sided pneumothorax

Figure 1: Initial chest x-ray demonstrating large left-sided pneumothorax


The conventional treatment of a spontaneous or iatrogenic pneumothorax is with a small-bore thoracostomy tube also known as a pigtail catheter. This usually requires connecting the patient to an underwater seal device such as a pleuravac, thereby necessitating admission to the hospital for monitoring. However, there are other devices available to treat this condition that can be deployed more rapidly and with similar success rates. In some cases, patients treated with these devices do not even require hospitalization.

One such device is the Tru-Close thoracic vent. The Tru-Close (also referred to as a Thora-Vent) is a portable device that consists of an 11 or 13 French catheter connected directly to a small air chamber containing a one-way valve and self-sealing port.

Using either an over-the-wire Seldinger technique or a trocar for direct insertion, the catheter is inserted using local anesthetic and sterile technique into the affected side at the patient’s second intercostal space on the mid-clavicular line (similar in location to where one would needle decompress a tension pneumothorax). The entire device is then affixed to the chest wall with adhesive wings. It can be left to air seal or connected to suction if clinically indicated. Time to complete the entire procedure from beginning to end takes around one minute (a video with more information on The Tru-Close, as well as the procedure for placement can be found here).

The literature on the use of thoracic vent devices in treatment of pneumothorax is limited. In one study of 18 patients (15 with spontaneous pneumothorax and 3 with iatrogenic pneumothorax), 88.9% of patients (16/18) treated with a Tru-Close thoracic vent had complete lung re-expansion within 24 hours. All of the patients with spontaneous pneumothorax were discharged to follow up as an outpatient. There were no immediate complications, and most patients remained recurrence free during a three-year follow up period. It is important to note that in this study, the device was inserted under fluoroscopic guidance, something that is not readily available to most emergency physicians.  

In another study of 30 patients comparing thoracic vent devices to conventional intercostal tube drainage, the authors found that there was no significant difference in the rates of lung reexpansion or complications between the two groups. They did find that patients treated with the thoracic vent devices needed significantly less analgesics than patients treated in the conventional manner. Furthermore, 70% of patients treated with a thoracic vent were managed as an outpatient, whereas all patients treated with the conventional intercostal tube required admission. 

This literature suggests that in reliable, otherwise healthy patients who present with an uncomplicated spontaneous pneumothorax, the use of a thoracic vent device for lung reexpansion may be a good option that could potentially enable the patient to be discharged and managed as an outpatient provided they have close follow-up. Patients generally tolerate the device well as allows maximum ambulation while device in place.

Case Resolution

A Tru-Close thoracic vent is placed in the emergency department, and a repeat chest x-ray demonstrates rapid resolution of the pneumothorax (Figure 2). The patient is admitted to the medical service due to a persistent air leak. He has an uneventful hospital stay and is discharged on hospital day 3.

Figure 2: Interval resolution of left-sided pneumothorax after placement of a Tru-Close thoracic vent.

Figure 2: Interval resolution of left-sided pneumothorax after placement of a Tru-Close thoracic vent.

Faculty reviewer: Kristina McAteer


  1. Kim et al. “Effectiveness of Ambulatory Tru-Close Thoracic Vent for the Outpatient Management of Pneumothorax: A Prospective Pilot Study.”Korean J Radiol. 2017 May-Jun;18(3):519-525. doi: 10.3348/kjr.2017.18.3.519. Epub 2017 Apr 3.

  2. Roggla, et al. “The management of pneumothorax with the thoracic vent versus conventional intercostal tube drainage.” The Central European Journal of Medicine. 1996;108(11):330-3.

  3. Tsuchiya et al. “Outpatient Treatment of Pneumothorax with a Thoracic Vent: Economic Benefit.” Respiration. 2015;90(1):33-9. doi: 10.1159/000381958. Epub 2015 May 12.



Diving Deep: Pulmonary Barotrauma in a Free Diver


A 24-year-old male presented to the Emergency Department with cough and hemoptysis. The patient had been spearfishing when his symptoms began. The patient had dove to a depth of 50 feet using 11 lbs of weights on his belt, holding his breath along the way. On the way to the surface, he developed chest pain. After getting onto the boat, the patient coughed up approximately 5 tablespoons of bright red blood. After feeling a bit better, he went down again to a depth of 30 feet in order to catch a large fish. After returning to his boat, the patient was still experiencing cough, pleuritic chest pain, and mild shortness of breath.

On arrival to the emergency department, the patient was breathing comfortably on room air. He did not complain of any headache, visual changes, ear pain, nausea, joint or muscle pain, or any other symptoms. On exam, he was comfortable and his lungs were clear to auscultation bilaterally. The patient had no further hemoptysis after arrival to the emergency department. Given the patient’s chest pain and subjective shortness of breath, a chest x-ray was performed.

Chest X-ray notable for patchy, bilateral, midlung predominant airspace disease.

Chest X-ray notable for patchy, bilateral, midlung predominant airspace disease.

The patient was placed on supplemental oxygen and was admitted to the medical ICU for close monitoring overnight. Pulmonology was consulted who recommended supportive care and repeat chest x-ray the following day. A CT scan of the chest was preformed to evaluate for any underlying pulmonary parenchymal disorders.

Single image from chest CT scan showing bilateral patchy airspace disease

Single image from chest CT scan showing bilateral patchy airspace disease

A chest x-ray was completed the following morning in the medical ICU.

Chest X-ray notable for grossly stable, patchy bilateral airspace disease that is midlung predominant.

Chest X-ray notable for grossly stable, patchy bilateral airspace disease that is midlung predominant.

The patient remained hemodynamically stable and without respiratory distress throughout his hospitalization. He was discharged home on hospital day #2.


Spearfishing may be done while freediving, snorkeling or SCUBA diving. Our patient and his friends were freediving, or breath-hold diving.  Unlike SCUBA diving, breath-hold divers do not use supplemental air underwater.  Divers face a unique set of underwater hazards in addition to the general aquatic problems; such as drowning, hypothermia, water-borne infectious diseases, and interactions with hazardous marine life.  When diving deep, free divers are exposed to increased pressure, causing a spectrum of injuries to the body.

Pressure contributes either directly or indirectly to the majority of serious diving-related medical problems. As a diver descends underwater, absolute pressure increases much faster than in air. The pressure change with increasing depth is linear, although the greatest relative change in pressure per unit of depth change occurs nearest the surface, where it doubles in the first 33 feet of sea water. The body behaves as a liquid and follows Pascal’s law; pressure applied to any part of a fluid is transmitted equally throughout the fluid. When a diver submerges, the force of the tremendous weight of the water above is exerted over the entire body. The body is relatively unaware of this change in pressure.

Pascal’s Law: pressure applied to any part of a fluid is transmitted equally throughout the fluid.  Source:

Pascal’s Law: pressure applied to any part of a fluid is transmitted equally throughout the fluid.


This is true of the body, however the spaces within the body that contain air, including the lungs, sinuses, intestines, and middle ear follow a different law. The gases in these spaces obey Boyle's law; the pressure of a given quantity of gas at constant temperature varies inversely with its volume. Therefore, as you dive deeper, the volume of air in the middle ear, sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract is reduced. Inability to maintain gas pressure in these body spaces equal to the surrounding water pressure leads to barotrauma.

Boyle’s Law: the pressure of a given quantity of gas at constant temperature varies inversely with its volume.  Source:

Boyle’s Law: the pressure of a given quantity of gas at constant temperature varies inversely with its volume.


Barotrauma can potentially involve any area with entrapment of gas in a closed space. In addition to sinuses, lungs and the GI tract, the barotrauma can occur to the external auditory canal, includes teeth, the portion of the face under a face mask, and skin trapped under a wrinkle in a dry suit. The tissue damage resulting from such pressure imbalance is commonly referred to as a “squeeze”. 

Given that our patient’s only complains were respiratory in nature; hemoptysis, shortness of breath, cough with deep breathing, we will focus on pulmonary barotrauma. Pressure related injury to lung can occur on the way down or as a diver ascends to the surface.



Recall from physiology that if you were able to completely exhale, the absolute minimum lung volume remaining is called the residual volume (RV). Lung squeeze occurs when the when the diver descends to a depth at which the total lung volume is reduced to less than the residual volume. At this point, transpulmonic pressure exceeds intraalveolar pressure, causing transudation of fluid or blood from ruptured of pulmonary capillaries. (1) Patients exhibit signs of pulmonary edema and hypoxemia.

Lung Volumes  Source:

Lung Volumes


Despite this presumed mechanism of barotrauma of descent, free divers are able to dive to depths beyond those that should cause mechanical damage to the lungs. Other physiologic mechanisms must play a role, although the exact pathophysiology of this condition remains unclear. When diving deep, the chest cavity itself gets smaller and there is central pooling of blood in the chest from the surrounding tissues. The central pooling of blood in the chest equalizes the pressure gradient when the RV is reached and thereby decreases the effective RV. This mechanism increases the pressure in the pulmonary vascular bed causing rupture of the pulmonary capillaries and intrapulmonary hemorrhage. This is the reason that many free divers cough up blood after deep dive. These mechanisms allow the lungs to be compressed down to about 5% of Total Lung Capacity in highly-trained breath-hold champions. (2) Although there are several  case reports of lung squeeze occurring with shallow diving, typically with repetitive dives with short surface intervals. (3) An individual’s anatomy, physiologic reserves, underlying pathology and the conditions of the day all play a role in the development of pulmonary barotrauma. (2)


As a diver ascends, the pressure within the alveoli of the lung increase as the pressure around the diver decreases. Remember Boyle’s law? If intrapulmonary gas is trapped behind a closed glottis, as the diver ascends and the surrounding pressure decreases, the volume of the intrapulmonary gas increases. Increased pressure within the lung causes an increase in transalveolar pressure leading to overexpansion injury and alveolar rupture. (4) A situation of rapid ascent to the surface, such as if a diver runs out of air, panics, or drops his weights, is often the cause of pulmonary barotrauma of ascent. Divers who hold a breath as they ascend and those with obstructive airway diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are at increased risk. This was likely the case with our patient, he did not exhale and relieve the building pressure as he ascended, causing his pulmonary barotrauma.

Eventually, the intrapulmonary pressure rises so high that air is forced across the pulmonary capillary membrane. The specific clinical manifestations of pulmonary barotrauma depend on the amount of air that escapes the alveoli and location that it travels to. Air can rupture alveoli, causing localized pulmonary injury and alveolar hemorrhage. (4) Pulmonary interstitial air can dissect along bronchi to the mediastinum causing pneumomediastinum, the most common form of pulmonary barotrauma. This air can track superiorly to the neck, resulting in subcutaneous emphysema. Rarely, air may reach the visceral pleura, causing a pneumothorax.

If air enters the pulmonary vasculature, it can travel to the heart and embolize to other parts of the body, causing arterial gas embolism (AGE). Clinical manifestations of cerebral air embolism are sudden and can be life-threatening. Approximately 4% of divers who suffer an AGE die immediately from Total occlusion of the central vascular bed with air. (5,6) AGE patients who make it to the hospital usually present with hemoconcentration due to plasma extravasation from endothelial injury. (7)  The degree of hemoconcentration correlates with the neurologic outcome of the diver. (7) Creatinine kinase is elevated in cases of AGE and correlates with neurologic outcome of the diver. (8) All cases of AGE must be referred for hyperbaric oxygen treatment as rapidly as possible. (9) All suspected AGE patients should be referred for hyperbaric consultation, even if initial neurologic manifestations resolve prior to reaching an ED in order to prevent progression of subtle neurologic deficits that are not immediately detected.

Our patient dove to a depth of 50 feet and reported holding his breath while resurfacing, therefore it is likely that he experienced pulmonary barotrauma of ascent. However, cases of lung squeeze have occurred with free diving to more shallow depths. (3) Regardless, the emergency department management of the spectrum of pulmonary barotrauma is similar.



First of all, stop the dive! Ensure the safety of the injured diver and help them relax. Help the injured diver exit the water to prevent any strenuous physical activity. When available, have the diver breath 100% oxygen. Avoid exposure to pressures (such as flying or a repeat dive). On arrival to the ED, perform a complete history and physical. Evaluate for any signs of AGE, such as a transient episode of neurologic dysfunction immediately after surfacing.  

A diver with local pulmonary injury without any evidence of AGE does not require recompression and should be treated with supportive care, consisting of rest and supplemental oxygen in severe cases. Most diving-related pneumothoraces are small, therefore treatment may consist simply of supplemental oxygen and close observation. If the diver requires recompression, a chest tube must be placed in order to prevent a tension pneumothorax during depressurization from a hyperbaric chamber. Depending on where you practice, consider transferring the patient to a tertiary care facility if the clinical presentation is worsening, if there are further episodes of hemoptysis, or if the patient requires further testing, such as broncoscopy. To date, I have been unable to find any data that supports the use of steroids, diuretics, or other medications to treat this condition. Patients should rest for at least two weeks before resuming diving and preferably after being cleared fit to dive by a physician with knowledge of dive related injuries.


Divers Alert Network (DAN) is a not-for-profit diving safety medical organization. DAN's medical staff is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to handle diving emergencies. They can be reached via and through a medical hotline 1-919-684-9111.


  • Pressure contributes to the majority of diving-related medical problems.

  • The spaces within the body that contain air, including the lungs, sinuses, intestines, and middle ear obey Boyle's law; the pressure of a given quantity of gas at constant temperature varies inversely with its volume.

  • As you dive deeper, air in the middle ear, sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract is reduced in volume. As you resurface, the pressure of the gas decreases and the volume expands.

  • When breath-hold diving to deep depths, divers may experience “lung squeeze”, or transudation of fluid or blood from ruptured pulmonary capillaries causing non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema.

  • On ascent, over distension causes alveolar rupture and may cause air to escape into an extraalveolar locations.

    • Possible presentations are pneumomediastinum, subcutaneous emphysema, pneumothorax, or arterial gas embolization.

  • Treatment usually consists of supportive care, rest, avoiding further exposure to pressures (flying or repeat dives), and supplemental oxygen when needed.

  • Evaluate for any historical clues of physical exam findings suggestive of AGE as these patients require hyperbaric treatment.

  • When in doubt, call the 24-hour Divers Alert Network (DAN) emergency medical hotline at 1-919-684-9111.

Faculty Reviewers: Dr. Kristina McAteer and Dr. Victoria Leytin

Follow the discussion here on Figure 1


  1. Schaefer KE, Allison RD, Dougherty JH, Jr., et al. Pulmonary and circulatory adjustments determining the limits of depths in breathhold diving. Science 1968;162:1020-3.

  2. Lung Squeeze: Coughing your lungs out...or not! 2015. (Accessed July 15, 2018, at

  3. Raymond LW. Pulmonary barotrauma and related events in divers. Chest 1995;107:1648-52.

  4. Balk M, Goldman JM. Alveolar hemorrhage as a manifestation of pulmonary barotrauma after scuba diving. Ann Emerg Med 1990;19:930-4.

  5. Van Hoesen K., Lang, M. Diving Medicine.  Auerbach’s Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed: Elsevier, Inc.; 2017:1583-618.

  6. Neuman TS, Jacoby I, Bove AA. Fatal pulmonary barotrauma due to obstruction of the central circulation with air. J Emerg Med 1998;16:413-7.

  7. Smith RM, Van Hoesen KB, Neuman TS. Arterial gas embolism and hemoconcentration. J Emerg Med 1994;12:147-53.

  8. Smith RM, Neuman TS. Elevation of serum creatine kinase in divers with arterial gas embolization. N Engl J Med 1994;330:19-24.

  9. Cales RH, Humphreys N, Pilmanis AA, Heilig RW. Cardiac arrest from gas embolism in scuba diving. Ann Emerg Med 1981;10:589-92.

AEM Early Acess 15: Predicting High ED Utilization Among Patients With Asthma Exacerbations

Welcome to the fifteenth episode of AEM Early Access, a FOAMed podcast collaboration between the Academic Emergency Medicine Journal and Brown Emergency Medicine. Each month, we'll give you digital open access to an recent AEM Article or Article in Press, with an author interview podcast and suggested supportive educational materials for EM learners.

Find this podcast series on iTunes here.

A FOAM Collaboration: Academic Emergency Medicine Journal and Brown EM

A FOAM Collaboration: Academic Emergency Medicine Journal and Brown EM

DISCUSSING: (open access through June 30, 2018; click on title to access.)

Comparing Statewide and Single-center Data to Predict High-frequency Emergency Department Utilization Among Patients With Asthma Exacerbation. Margaret E. Samuels-Kalow, MD, MPhil, MSHP, Mohammad K. Faridi, MPH, Janice A. Espinola, MPH, Jean E. Klig, MD, and Carlos A. Camargo, Jr., MD, DrPH. Academic Emergency Medicine, 2018.



Recorded on site at SAEM 2018 in Indianapolis.  Stay tuned to the end for a BONUS about Dr. Samuels-Kalow's winning EXCITE project submission, addressing gender disparities and the 'leaky pipeline' of female leadership in academic emergency medicine. 

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Margaret Samuels-Kalow MD MPhil MSHP

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School


Background: Previous studies examining high-frequency emergency department (ED) utilization have primarily used single-center data, potentially leading to ascertainment bias if patients visit multiple centers. The goals of this study were 1) to create a predictive model to prospectively identify patients at risk of high-frequency ED utilization for asthma and 2) to examine how that model differed using statewide versus single-center data.

Methods: To track ED visits within a state, we analyzed 2011 to 2013 data from the New York State Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Emergency Department Databases. The first year of data (2011) was used to determine prior utilization, 2012 was used to identify index ED visits for asthma and for demographics, and 2013 was used for outcome ascertainment. High-frequency utilization was defined as 4+ ED visits for asthma within 1 year after the index visit. We performed analyses separately for children (age < 21 years) and adults and constructed two models: one included all statewide (multicenter) visits and the other was restricted to index hospital (single-center) visits. Multivariable logistic regression models were developed from potential predictors selected a priori. The final model was chosen by evaluating model performance using Akaike’s Information Criterion scores, 10-fold cross-validation, and receiver operating characteristic curves.

Results: Among children, high-frequency ED utilization for asthma was observed in 2,417 of 94,258 (2.56%) using all statewide visits, compared to 1,853 of 94,258 (1.97%) for index hospital visits only. Among adults, the corresponding results were 7,779 of 159,874 (4.87%) and 5,053 of 159,874 (3.16%), respectively. In the multicenter visit model, the area under the curve (AUC) from 10-fold cross-validation for children was 0.70 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.69–0.72), compared to 0.71 (95% CI = 0.69–0.72) in the single-center visit model. The corresponding AUC results for adults were 0.76 (95% CI = 0.76–0.77) and 0.76 (95% CI = 0.75–0.77), respectively.

Conclusion: Data available at the index ED visit can predict subsequent high-frequency utilization for asthma with AUC ranging from 0.70 to 0.76. Model accuracy was similar regardless of whether outcome ascertainment included all statewide visits (multicenter) or was limited to the index hospital (single-center).


"Looking out for each other": a qualitative study on the role of social network interactions in asthma management among adult Latino patients presenting to an emergency department. Pai S1, Boutin-Foster C, Mancuso CA, Loganathan R, Basir R, Kanna B. 
J Asthma. 2014 Sep;51(7):714-9. doi: 10.3109/02770903.2014.903967. Epub 2014 Apr 7.

"No other choice": reasons for emergency department utilization among urban adults with acute asthma. Lawson CC1, Carroll K, Gonzalez R, Priolo C, Apter AJ, Rhodes KV. Acad Emerg Med 2014 Jan;21(1):1-8. doi: 10.1111/acem.12285.

Duseja R, Bardach NS, Lin GA, et al. Revisit rates and associated costs after an emergency department encounter: a multistate analysis. Ann Intern Med 2015;162:750-6.

Horrocks D, Kinzer D, Afzal S, Alpern J, Sharfstein JM. The Adequacy of Individual Hospital Data to Identify High Utilizers and Assess Community Health. JAMA Intern Med 2016;176:856-8.